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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: February 2022] Hogfather

I don’t know that I’d call many Discworld books “exciting.”  They’re funny, thoughtful, clever, interesting and so much more.  But usually not  “exciting. ” But there’s something about Hogfather that makes it an incredibly exciting read.

It starts with the Auditors.  We haven’t seen them in a while.  The last time we saw them, they basically fired Death because he was getting too involved with humanity.  The Auditors are gray spectral beings who exist to make the sure the world is running correctly.   If any of them acts even remotely like an individual, he is instantly zapped and replaced with a new even more neutral Auditor.

And what makes the world not run smoothly?  Humanity.  Really, the Auditors hate humanity.  And they think they have finally figured out a way to make things run more smoothly.  They decide to get rid of the Hogfather.

The Hogfather is more or less Santa Claus, but with a Discworld twist.  Yes, he grants children’s wishes on Hogswatchnight (December 32–which takes its name from the Scottish celebration for the last day of the calendar year–Hogmanay) and brings them presents, but his sleigh is pulled by four wild boars, Gouger, Rooter, Tusker and Snouter.  We don’t see much of the actual Hogfather because once Death learns that Hogfather is… incapacitated, Death decides to take over his duties for the night.  Why?  Because if Hogfather doesn’t exist then the Sun will not rise.  This is nonsense, of course. Isn’t it? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus.

[READ: December 26, 2021] Skiing Tales of Terror

My daughter T., got this book for me for Christmas.  She bought it at a flea market.  She told me that she thought I’d like it because it looked like the kind of cartoon books that I like (she is referring to the original editions of The Far Side that came in the short but wide comic style).

A fair guess.

Except that the content is entirely about skiing.  Which is something I have done maybe three times in my life.  And which I’m terrified of.

So, content-wise it’s not really my wheelhouse.

And yet, this book turned out to be pretty fascinating.  It is a mix of jokes about skiers and genuinely helpful skiing tips.  Indeed, if I had read this book before the first time I Went skiing I would have probably enjoyed the experience a lot more. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 25, 2021] “How Wang-Fo Was Saved”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

So here’s yet another story translated by Manguel.

The last few stories in this collection just left me feeling unhappy.  I didn’t really enjoy them, and found them mostly tedious.  A lot of them felt like stories that took an idea and kept building on it with more an more examples. Rather than advancing the story, it just reiterated the story.

Yourcenar evidently wrote many

Oriental Tales, stories set in the Near and Far East, a few based on traditional legends and folktales. According to Yourcenar, the story of the painter Wang-Fo and his disciple is her own invention, though inspired by a Chinese Taoist classic. Scholars, however, have pointed out that Yourcenar seems to have taken her inspiration from a collection of Japanese tales collected and retold by the nineteenth-century Greek-Irish scholar Lafcadio Hearn.

So, yes, another old story, which is what this reads like.

First we meet Wang-Fo’s disciple, who gave up his life to follow the amazing painter Wang-Fo.  He was very wealthy and slowly gave up everything so that Wang-Fo could continue to do his work. Everything he painted felt better than life–more vivid, more real. (more…)

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[READ: December 24, 2021] “The Young King”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

I was pretty delighted that Oscar Wilde was selected for this short story (with the caveat that there are hundreds of more recent Irish short story writers to choose from of course).  And it started off with Wilde’s wit with the king’s courtiers needing Etiquette lessons because most of them still had natural manners–a very grave offense.

But then, good lord, this story dragged on so torturously.

A 16 year old lad is named to be the next king.  He was raised by goatherds so he is blown away by the sumptuousness of the castle.  But, as is the case with children’s stories, of which this is apparently one, he has three bad dreams.

Long dreams.  Elaborately detailed and yet rather tedious dreams. (more…)

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[READ: December 23, 2021] “The Fire Balloons”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

This is the kind of story that unfolds itself, proving to be too big for itself.

It is about a king who feared death.  So he ordered a cemetery to be built in the center of the kingdom with very high walls.  Everyone currently buried would be dg up and moved to the new cemetery.

This takes extensive time and involves many years of building a digging (often with one piece sufficing as an entire body). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 22, 2021] “Truman Capote”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

I read this whole story believing it was written by Truman Capote and believing that perhaps (as with many of the other authors in this collection) he originated from a place I didn’t realize.  And that Hassouna Mosbahi was a person or perhaps a place that I’d never heard of.

And I thought it was really weird and meta that Truman Capote was writing about himself and that he was writing about himself as if he were dead.  It seemed like a pretty crazy conceit.

Whoops.

This story is introduced by a narrator who relates his forgetfulness.  He has arrived home in Tunisia, but he’s not sure why.  Eventually he discovers a telegram that informs him his grandmother has died.  While he is in the center city he sees Truman Capote in his white suit and hat. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 21, 2021] “The Three Hermits”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

By the time I saw Leo Tolstoy I was getting a little annoyed by the end of this collection.  Nothing against Tolstoy at all–we should all read him more, but again, I wanted a contemporary writer to get excited by.

And then this story turned out to be exactly the same as Ray Bradbury’s story (obviously Tolstoy was first), but it was less satisfying.

Basically, a bishop is aboard a ship and is told by the pilgrims on board that there’s an island nearby with three very holy hermits.  Naturally the busybody bishop needs to see them to make sure they are praying correctly. So he disrupts the entire voyage, making everyone else delay their travels for at least a full day, so he can be a pain in the ass to these poor hermits.

He tries to teach them about god, but they don’t understand him. (more…)

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[READ: December 20, 2021] “Ch’ien-niang”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

As with Homer and Hans Christian Andersen, I am fairly surprised that Manguel went back to the Tang Dynasty (even if it the Golden Age of Chinese literature) to find a story.  Especially since “’Ch’ien-niang’ is a Chinese version of Sleeping Beauty with a twist.”

Ch’ien-niang is a legend that the narrator had often heard of.

Ch’ien-niang was designed to marry Wang Chou.  But Chou was to be sent away instead. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 19, 2021] “The Fire Balloons”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

This is the story of Trudy, a young woman who pretends to be much younger in order to win a suitor.

Trudy met the man, Richard, on vacation.  She and her friend Gwen had gone to Austria and after a couple of days they ran into Richard, who had known Gwen for years.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 18, 2021] “The Travelling Companion”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

I have mixed feelings about including a Hans Christian Andersen story here.  On the one hand, I don’t think I have ever actually read an HCA story (of course I know many of them).  So on the one hand it was interesting to do so.  But, as with Homer, there was no from the last century and a half in Denmark worthy of inclusion here?

In this story a Poor John’s father dies immediately.  So Poor John sets off with his few belongings to seek his fortune.

The first night he slept under the stars and in the morning gave some coins to a beggar.  Later that night, he happened upon a church and made to sleep there for the night as the weather was worsening. (more…)

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